Grill Secrets to Step up the Sizzle

  • Transcript

    TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: We hope you’re enjoying this Independence weekend. I think that this has been an amazing Fourth of July holiday – because it spanned two whole weekends, Leslie – and we get to wrap it up with The Money Pit. If you’re taking on a project to help you enjoy that outdoor space, you’re in exactly the right place. Give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Coming up on today’s program, speaking of outdoor projects, are you ready to build a man cave or a she shed? These projects are more popular than ever. So we’re going to have some pro tips to help you get it done right.

    LESLIE: And after a couple of months of heavy grilling, your gas grill might need an extreme makeover of its own. We’re going to have some tips for a simple mid-season grill cleaning to step up the sizzle.

    TOM: Plus, building codes exist to keep your family safe but only if you or your contractor follow them. We’ve got updates on how to avoid the three most commonly violated codes, just ahead.

    LESLIE: But first, we want to talk to you. What is going on in this super-long Fourth of July weekend? Have you taken the whole week off? Are you just constantly working on your money pit and chilling out and having a great time? Well, whatever it is, we are here to lend a hand. Whether we’re chilling or not, we’re here for you. Give us a call.

    TOM: The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Gayla (sp) in Washington is on the line looking for some cooling solutions. How can we help you today?

    GAYLA (sp): So we’re looking at installing air conditioning into our home. And we’re in the Seattle area, so it doesn’t get hot here too much – maybe like one to one-and-a-half months out of the year – but we really need it during that time. And so, we’re not sure if we really want to go the central-air route to get a full system or if – like if we could – we have a gas furnace. If we could get a gas one – or they also talked about heating pumps. We just don’t really know what the options are and what’s going to be the best investment in our money but also going to be effective during those hot months.

    TOM: OK. How big is your house, Gayla (sp)?

    GAYLA (sp): It’s about 2,700 square feet.

    TOM: Oh. And you want the entire house cool and comfortable and done evenly?

    GAYLA (sp): Yeah, pretty much. The downstairs is already relatively cool but not the upstairs at all.

    TOM: And you have a forced-air system right now?

    GAYLA (sp): Yes.

    TOM: Look, there’s no easy way to do this. You’re going to either get a central air-conditioning system or you’re not. If you had a smaller house or you had maybe just some limited, uncomfortable areas in the house, then what we might recommend is called a “mini-split ductless,” which can be used for zones in the house and big zones, like a two-room combination kind of a thing. But I don’t think – you’re not – certainly not going to be able to evenly cool the entire first floor or the entire second floor of the house with a mini-split ductless. And frankly, you’d end up needing so many of them that it would be more expensive than putting in a central A/C system.

    So, what we would tell you to do is to go ahead and install a traditional central air-conditioning system, to make sure that the home is sized properly. And so the HVAC contractor can do a heat-loss calculation and figure out exactly how many BTUs you need, in terms of cooling power, to deliver cool temperatures on the hottest days of the summer.

    You also want to make sure that the system that you use is an ENERGY STAR-certified system, because that’s going to make a big difference in how much this is going to actually cost you to operate. The good news is is that the system is probably going to last twice as long as any other system in another part of the country because you’re going to use it half as much.

    But there’s no inexpensive way to do this, even though you’re only using it for two months of the year. You’re still going to have to put in a central system with all the work that goes with that: buying the compressor, buying the evaporator coil, the condensing coil, the condensing pump, all that sort of thing. It’s a job, you know? So it’s going to be several thousand dollars to do this. But I would encourage you to make sure that you do it right and use the most energy-efficient system possible so it reduces your operating cost.

    And also find out from your local utility whether or not there are any rebates available to you for using energy-efficient equipment. There very well may be; there’s an awful lot of them scattered about across the country.

    GAYLA (sp): OK. Great. Thank you.

    TOM: Alright, Gayla (sp)? Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: J.C. in Missouri is on the line with a water-heater issue. Tell us what’s going on.

    J.C.: Say, I’ve got a seven-year-old water heater and I have to change my heating element every six months, especially during the wintertime. It builds up a lot of calcium in it. And I was wondering if you know anything about that or a product that I can use to eliminate that problem.

    TOM: Well, if you have mineral salts that are building up a lot, you can use a water softener. There’s one that doesn’t require any salt and it’s called EasyWater.

    J.C.: OK.

    TOM: And it’s an electronic water softener that hooks up to your main water line. And you plug it in and it basically forces the mineral deposits to not stick. It keeps them liquid or keeps them moving through the water so it doesn’t stick to water heaters and things of that nature.

    That said, I don’t necessarily think that mineral-salt deposits are the reason that your electric coils are burning out every six months. I wonder if you’ve got a bad batch of coils or you’re buying them all at the same place. I wonder if there is any kind of fluctuation in the voltage to the water heater. There may be another cause for those to burn out so quickly, because they certainly shouldn’t be doing that. And if you had any kind of mineral buildup, it’s going to be in the bottom of the water heater, not on the coils.

    J.C.: Oh, OK. Yes, I do have that white calcium. Every time I drain the water heater, I have to get something to scrape out the bottom of the water heater. Yes, you are right about that. Yes, you are right.

    TOM: So, if you use a water softener like EasyWater, I think that that will help.

    J.C.: I’m going to try it.

    TOM: Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at Give us a call. Let us know what you are working on, whether it’s a home repair or improvement or décor question. We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, as homeowners we’ve always sort of had a love/hate relationship with our backyard sheds. Everybody loves the extra storage space but hate the way they look. And building one, well, that’s not as easy as it may seem.

    LESLIE: We’re going to have options to help you tackle he sheds, she sheds and even we sheds in today’s Pro Project, presented by, next.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor, the fast and easy way to find the best home service pros in your area. You can read reviews and book appointments all online.

    TOM: Give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. We’d love to help you take on that summer project. Maybe you’re thinking ahead to fall. Whatever’s on your to-do list, slide it over to ours by calling us, right now, at 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: And now we’ve got Kimberly in College Station, Texas with a leaky roof. Tell us what’s going on.

    KIMBERLY: We bought this house many years – several years ago. And we had an inspection of the house and we didn’t know that we had a problem with a roof leak. The inspector didn’t catch it because the people who owned the house first put some plastic over the leaking areas. So when it rained, it held water and we didn’t know that until four or five months afterwards, after we bought the house. And then our insurance wouldn’t cover anything.

    And we’re just – we’ve got more leaks now because the house is getting older. And so, instead of replacing the entire roof, we’re looking for some suggestions on some kind of a seal. And we don’t even know – there’s all these things out there. We don’t know what would be the best, if there’s anything available, or what we should do.

    TOM: OK. So, you say that they covered this with plastic and your home inspector never noticed that it was covered with plastic? I mean duh.

    KIMBERLY: No. And it was – it’s on the – up in the inside of the house. And also, they painted the ceiling. They had a 5-gallon can of white ceiling paint in our garage, which – so they kept it covered all the time, which – nobody caught that. Now, I didn’t think anything about it.

    TOM: Was this roof accessible? The area that was covered with plastic?

    KIMBERLY: Yes. And he walked around up there and it – and I guess it hadn’t rained in a while. So, those little sealed-up areas weren’t full of water at this – at the time.

    TOM: Let me ask you this: is this a sloped roof or a flat roof?

    KIMBERLY: Sloped.

    TOM: And has it ever been covered with tar or anything like that?


    TOM: So the metal is still fresh in the sense that it has never been tarred over?

    KIMBERLY: No, it’s not tarred.

    TOM: Well, have you had a roofer look at it?

    KIMBERLY: We have; we’ve had several. And one told us that it would cost us $6,000 or $7,000 to put a seal on it. And now there’s some of those things out there at the home improvement stores. We just don’t know if …

    TOM: OK, look, let me make this real easy for you. You don’t seal a metal roof; you repair a metal roof. Metal roofs can last 100 years. So, if any roofer is trying to sell you something in a can that he’s going to seal the roof with, that is a disaster waiting to happen, for a lot of reasons.

    First of all, it’s not the right way to fix it. Secondly, it actually does more harm than good and here’s why: because when you seal a roof with tar – a metal roof with tar – water still gets in; it gets under the tar and then it quickly rusts the roof away. If you have a roof that is cracked or has rusted out in a piece of area, then you repair those; you don’t tar over them like you might, say, an asphalt roof.

    So, that’s – what you need to do is to find a roofer who is a craftsman. And I realize that that’s easier said than done. But if you find a roofer that’s a craftsman that really has experience with metal roofs and doesn’t just know how to tear one off – that doesn’t count as experience with a metal roof which, unfortunately, many will just say, “Oh, we’ll tear it off and do something else.”

    No. If you find somebody that really knows metal roofs, then that should be completely repairable. And I would not encourage you to put any kind of sealant on it but to figure out where it’s leaking and why it’s leaking and fix it.

    You’ve got to dig into it further, Kim. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Well, homeowners have always had sort of a love/hate relationship with backyard sheds. Now, we love the extra storage space but we hate the way they look. And building one is really not as easy as it seems. And then maintaining the shed is a job that – it really feels like it just never ends. You’re constantly doing something, whether you’re organizing it or fixing the outside.

    TOM: That’s right.

    LESLIE: It’s always something. But whether you’re just a little tight on outside storage or maybe you want to build a she shed or a man cave, there are four important things that you’ve got to consider. We’ve got those tips, in today’s Pro Project presented by

    TOM: That’s right. So, first off, let’s talk about cost. The average cost to build a shed is between 800 and 4,000 bucks, depending on the materials you choose and whether you do it as a do-it-yourself project or you hire a pro. But whether you decide to hire a pro or not, there are several basic questions you need to ask yourself before you start shopping.

    For example, let’s talk about size and style. Do you need something that’s very simple and utilitarian or do you want something that’s very decorative? I mean there are many different types of styles and sizes out there, so you want to evaluate your home and your property to determine the best style for your needs.

    Now, one trick to make the design fit in is to choose a style that matches your home’s roof line. So, think about it: if your home has a gable roof, building a shed with a barn-style roof is just not going to look right. It looks kind of hokie (sp) and out of place.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Now, if you’ve got a tight budget, think about designing a simple shed that gets the job done but doesn’t have a lot of frills. If you’ve got extra wiggle room, you can look for added features, such as integrated shelving inside, decorative trim on the exterior. Or you can even go all-out man cave or she shed and add some electricity, heat, plumbing, the works.

    TOM: Now, let’s talk about permits. You want to make sure you check local building codes to determine if you need a permit to build that shed on your property. Now, there’s really three types of permits that could apply: building, mechanical and zoning.

    So, building is the structure, right? Mechanical, you would need that if you were going to add electricity to it or even plumbing. And zoning, that’s the really important one. Because in some towns, they limit how many outbuildings you can build and how many square feet they can be and so on. And you want to make sure that you’re not violating any of those codes. If you are, it would be terrible to find this out after you finished your project and then all of a sudden, you get some building official telling you that you’ve got to tear the whole darn thing down because you’re outside of the building ordinance.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And believe me, it happens. So you’ve got to make sure you do your homework.

    And that’s today’s Pro Project presented by With HomeAdvisor, you can get matched with top-rated home service pros in your area, compare prices, read verified reviews and book appointments online, all for free.

    TOM: No matter the type of job, HomeAdvisor makes it fast and easy to hire the best local pros.

    LESLIE: Ben in Minnesota, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    BEN: I have a really old house, kind of like what you guys have, and it’s built in the early – probably early 1900s. Don’t know exactly. But it’s got a rock foundation and we’re in Southwest Minnesota, so the ground does freeze pretty deep.

    And basically, the mortar between all of the rocks has pretty much turned to sand. Some places, they worked on re-tuckpointing it here and there. But it’s all kind of coming apart again and some of the rocks, especially on the corners, are even tipping out a little bit. So I’m trying to figure out what I need to do to fix that, if I need to dig down. I have access to equipment. I work in the HVAC business, so we have lots of equipment and I do lots of stuff on my own. So, just seeing if you guys had any pointers for me.

    TOM: So, the foundation is damaged or you’re just concerned about the rocks that are sticking out?

    BEN: Yeah, well, the foundation isn’t particular damaged; it’s actually pretty solid. It’s just that the mortar – since it’s so old, the mortar between all of the rocks has deteriorated to the point where it’s almost like sand. You know what I mean? And it just falls out from between the rocks.

    TOM: So what you need to do is simply to repoint or replace that mortar. Pointing is the act of mixing up new mortar and pulling out the old stuff and then pressing new mortar into place.

    And the type of mortar that you use for repointing is a little stickier than the mortar that would have been done originally. Usually, it has a bit more lime in it, which tends to make it a bit gooier and it sticks to the old stuff pretty well.

    So, what you do is you work one section at a time. You do remove all that loose stuff and then you repoint it up with new mortar. And that’s pretty much normal maintenance with a 1900 foundation. You do have to eventually repoint a foundation like that; it’s not unusual. You can slow it down with proper drainage and things like that but essentially, that’s what we would expect, OK?

    BEN: Right, OK. Perfect. Hey, thanks so much for your time and the advice.

    TOM: You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Ollie (sp) in South Carolina has a painting and design question. What can we do for you?

    OLLIE (sp): I’ve got paneling. I don’t know if it’s laminated paneling or not but it’s got little grooves in it all the way down and it’s darker than the other paneling itself. And I wanted to paint it. Do I have to do something to fill it in – lines or cracks or what you want to call it?

    LESLIE: Now, the lines that you’re talking about, those are like the beading. It’s like a decorative feature; it’s supposed to be there. Is that what we’re talking about?

    OLLIE (sp): Yeah.

    LESLIE: OK. You don’t want to fill that in only because if you try to fill it in with joint compound or wood filler, it’s just going to dry out, crack, detach. It’s never going to last.

    So you kind of have to think about it. Can you embrace the look of the paneling, as far as a core element but paint it a different color and love that vertical lining? Or do you just hate that so much that you want to sort of try to remove it or cover it up?

    OLLIE (sp): No, I’d like to leave it if it would make a nice design, you know?

    LESLIE: I personally like it. I think painted paneling can be very lovely in the right type of space with the right type of décor and if you choose a good color. Now, the fact that you don’t know whether it’s wood or laminate, that could be a little bit of a concern only because we want to make sure that you have good adhesion.

    So if the finish on the paneling, right now, is a little bit glossy or has a shine to it, you want to use a product like a liquid sander. And that’s something that you just wipe on and it sort of abrades the surface.

    First, I’d give it a good cleaning, then I’d lightly abrade it with a liquid sander. Then I would prime it and I would prime it well with a good-quality primer. And then once that’s done, I would paint it. And I really enjoy the look of a paneling that’s in a glossy white. But I think if you go with a neutral color and try not to get crazy and just sort of let it be a neutral background with a decorative detail in it, I think it’ll be great.

    OLLIE (sp): I think it would look nice. But thank you. You have a good day.

    TOM: You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Well, now that we’ve been through a couple of months of heavy grilling, your gas grill could need an extreme makeover of its own. We’re going to share some tips for a simple mid-season grill cleaning that’s going to step up the sizzle, after this.

    TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor, where it’s easy to find top-rated, local home improvement pros for any project. Just go to

    TOM: And we’re standing by to take your calls, your questions, right now, at 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Jo in California is on the line and needs some help with some bar-stool restoration. Tell us what they look like.

    JO: Well, they have wooden arms and they’re padded, they’re cloth. And then down at the bottom, where the feet are at, they’ve got little wooden rails on them. And I need to redo them. I’ve got them cleaned and brushed down and everything. And somebody said I should use spar varnish on them and I need to know what to get to put on them – on the wood.

    LESLIE: Is there any metal at all? It’s all wood?

    JO: No. Everything else is padded.

    LESLIE: So everything else is fabric.

    JO: The arms are wood. It’s got one, two, three, four little metal legs on it, at the bottom, and halfway up. And they’re wood. And I’ve got them ready to paint but I don’t know what to put on it.

    TOM: So you want to refinish the wood in a clear – for the clear finish or a painted finish? A clear finish?

    JO: Clear finish.

    TOM: OK. So, yeah, I mean you can use spar varnish on it; that’s a fine product. What you’re going to have to do, though, is lightly sand all those wood surfaces.

    JO: They’re ready. They have already done that.

    TOM: You’ve done that. OK. Well, then, you’ve done the hard part if you’ve done all the sanding. But what I would tell you to do is to be very careful to get the varnish only on the wood and not on any of the padded areas or the metal areas.

    LESLIE: Yeah. This is going to be about creative masking and taping things off and covering things with plastic and tape and …

    TOM: Yeah. Because if you get it on there, you’re going to have a problem. So you want to mask it very carefully to keep it away from the areas where you don’t want the spar varnish to get.

    JO: Yeah, OK. And you think that’s the best to get? Because somebody else said, “No, you don’t want to use that. You want to use clear acrylic.”

    TOM: Well, look, it’s a personal preference. The varnish is – I believe spar varnish is oil-based, which is fine. And it’s actually – you’ll find that the oil-based finishes are a little more durable in terms of abrasion resistance.

    LESLIE: And I think they give a better sheen, as well.

    TOM: Yeah, it’s a good point. Mm-hmm. They take a little longer to dry but they are a tougher finish.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. With the acrylic – “clear coats,” as they call it – it’s even available in a spray I’ve seen. I guess that really kind of depends on how raw the wood is, how much coverage you want. Again, masking is going to be the key here. And you really need to consider how much of a sheen you want. Think about that, as well, when you’re making your selection. Because if you want something that’s super shiny and almost has that wet look, really, that oil-based varnish is the way to go.

    TOM: Well, now that we’ve been through a couple of months of heavy grilling, your gas grill is probably ready for a good cleaning. That same charbroiling action that flavors ribs and chickens and steaks and burgers all summer long can really cause some problems if you don’t stop occasionally and do a thorough cleaning just once in a while. Now, it’s a pretty simple project, so we’re going to walk you through it.

    The first thing you want to do is soak those grids in hot, soapy water and clean them with a nylon scrubbing pad. Now, if the grids are really encrusted, a little trick is to use oven cleaner on them. Of course, do that in a well ventilated area and then rinse them clean.

    Next, if your grill has lava rock or ceramic briquettes, you want to take them out, clean them gently with a wire brush and you want to replace any that are deteriorated. I’ve found in the past that sometimes, when you take the brush to these, they literally come apart in your hands. And that’s probably a good thing for you to know. Because if they’re that deteriorated, they do need to be replaced. So, give them a brush, replace any you need to.

    And then carefully check for cracks, splits, seams or holes in those burners. If any are found, the burner should immediately be replaced. I actually did a total burner replacement on a grill, that was probably about 10 years old, last summer and I was surprised how easy it was to find the parts. And now it works perfectly.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Now, next, you’ve got to check all of those rubber hoses. They’re not meant to last forever and in the winter months, things can be compromised. So you want to look for cracks and replace any that show the slightest sign of wear.

    Now, once the grill cleaning is complete, you’re ready to put that grill back together. And check all of those gas connections for any leaks that could have happened. So, to safely do this, you want to mix a 50/50 solution of liquid dishwashing soap and water. And then brush that solution on all of the gas connections and watch for bubbles. Now, if any bubbles are seen, that means that connection is leaking and you’ve got to fix it before you fire that grill back up. Otherwise, it could be super dangerous.

    TOM: Yep. And once you’re done, you are set for a summer of more sizzling steaks and burgers and everything else that makes barbecuing great.

    LESLIE: Nells in Oregon, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    NELLS: I’ve got a problem with flies. We have three heat pumps in the house and it takes in the air at the base of the windows. And every year, we get flies that come up out of those return ducts. There’s electronic filters down there and I can’t imagine where they’re coming from or …

    TOM: Well, they may be nesting in the house and they’re birthing themselves right into existence. And the reason they’re probably hanging out around the return ducts is because that’s where air gets drawn into the furnace and they just might be part of that airflow.

    I can’t really diagnose exactly what you need to do to get rid of those but I do know somebody that can. And if you go to the Orkin website, our show expert is a guy named Greg Baumann, who I’ve known for many years. He used to be the expert for the National Pest Management Association; now he’s the director of training for Orkin. They have an expert section on their website and if you post that question there and maybe even put a photo of the flies, I’m sure that you’ll be able to get to the bottom of it very quickly.

    NELLS: Great. Okie-dokie.

    TOM: Alright? Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: You know, guys, building codes exist to keep your family safe but only if you or your contractor follow them. We’ve got updates on how you can avoid the three most commonly violated codes, next.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show presented by You never have to worry about overpaying for a job again. Just use their True Cost Guide to see what others have paid for similar projects and then you can get matched with top-rated pros, read reviews, get quotes and book appointments, all for free at

    TOM: And we’re standing by to take your home improvement questions this Independence weekend. If you are still celebrating, we are right there with you. So give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Tim in Iowa has a wood-finishing question. How can we help you?

    TIM: I’ve got an old house. It’s got fir floors. I have acquired some reclaimed fir flooring to put in an addition, to try and match up the rest of the house. The question I have is – this is going to be the first floor that I redo in the house, so I kind of wanted to – whatever I do, I want to do it in the rest of the house.

    But the question I have is on the clear finish. I know a lot of different companies are making a water-based clear. And my second question is whether – or as far as durability, whether if something of that product would be durable.

    And then also, I have a couple of dogs that I’m worried about nail scratches, as far as sheen goes. I know the shinier it is, the easier – the more scratches you can see. So, I’m curious if there’s anything out there that shines good and will resist scratches.

    TOM: Yeah. I mean I have always felt that oil-based floor finishes are key. Any time I’ve tried to use a water-based floor finish, it doesn’t seem to have the durability. So I would definitely recommend an oil-based floor finish, like a polyurethane.

    And in terms of sheen, I think that semi-gloss is what you want, not high gloss because that does show. Not only does it show scratches, it shows a lot of dirt easier. But semi-gloss or satin is a nice color to have.

    So I think the answer is oil-based, satin polyurethane is the solution.

    TIM: Is there any kind of a two-part epoxy one that’s even more durable than the polyurethane or …?

    TOM: There are. There are two-part finishes like that. Professional floor installers do use those, like when they do sort of gym floors and that kind of stuff. But it’s not sort of an over-the-counter purchase. You’d have to go to a flooring-finish supply company.

    LESLIE: Oh, yeah. And that’s going to have to be applied in a manner where you’re really thinking about ventilation and protection of yourself, because that’s a fairly caustic material.

    TIM: Alright. Thank you very much, guys.

    TOM: Well, building codes help make sure that the work that’s done to your house is safe. But the system only works if you follow it. I had an unusual experience, not too long ago, when I received a letter from my local building department telling me that an oil tank I had removed, I had done so without having a permit on it. And I thought, “Wow, that’s really odd. How could I have possibly have taken an entire oil tank out without a permit?” The funny thing about this is not only did I have a permit but I did this as part of a live television shoot for the local news station.

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM: And the building inspector was on the show with me inspecting it. I had proof. But somehow, they thought I did it without a permit. I don’t know what happened to the records but I, very nicely, explained that to them and they very sheepishly said, “We’re sorry.” But the point is if you’re going to do some of these things, you’ve got to have a permit. It’s there for a reason, because these building inspectors will help make sure that the work done is done safe. It maintains the value in your home and makes sure that nothing is going to catch fire or get yourself in trouble later on.

    And there are a number of common mistakes that are made with building codes. I thought this might be a good time to sort those out.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You know, there are actually three common residential codes that tend to be frequently overlooked. Now, the first one involves handrails that are mounted on a wall. These kind of handrails must have what’s called a “return” on them. Now, a return is a piece at the end of the rail that turns and goes back to the wall. It’s going to keep things like your t-shirt sleeves and purse handles from getting caught on the handrail and then potentially causing you to fall down.

    And speaking of handrails, open handrails are no longer allowed. You do need to have spindles or balusters and they need to be spaced no more than 6 inches apart.

    TOM: Now, another commonly missed building code has to do with smoke alarms. For existing homes, you need to have one on every level of your house and outside each bedroom. Plus, you’ve got to make sure they all work.

    Now, if you’re building a new house, there’s a new code that requires that you have a smoke alarm in every bedroom, as well. And those need to be hardwired with a battery backup and they have to be interconnected. Now, what that means is if one goes off, they all go off, which is important.

    LESLIE: Now, here’s a last one that tends to be violated a lot, especially if you live in an older home. It tends to be missing or have defective ground-fault circuit interrupters. This is a problem, guys.

    Now, a ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is going to cut power to a circuit if it detects a diversion of current to a ground, which is you if you’re getting a shock. Now, GFCI protection is required for outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, garage and for all of your outdoor circuits. Basically, if there’s a chance it could be in contact with water, you’ve got to have the GFCI. It’s got a test button built in, which should be tested monthly. And if you don’t have any GFCIs, it is a wise safety improvement to add them.

    A friend of mine, Liz – who you’ve met, Tom – is doing an improvement on her house. And they’re doing a big renovation. It’s an old house that belonged to the grandmother. And during the process, they’ve discovered that the wiring is so old and it was going to be an additional expense. And I could not tell them enough. I’m like, “This is not where you shortchange things. It’s an old house. You’re investing in it. Do it right.”

    So, you’ve got to do it. The electrical system is super important.

    TOM: Yeah. And by the way, there’s another type of electrical outlet now or circuit breaker called an “arc-fault detector.” And that not only protects against shocks but also protects you if one of the wires starts to short or arc. That could cause a fire. So, take advantage of this new technology and be safe rather than sorry.

    LESLIE: Still ahead, can flickering lights be a sign that you have a dangerous electrical system? The answer is: it depends.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone, give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by Never worry about overpaying for a job. Just use HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide to see what others paid for similar projects. That’s all for free at

    LESLIE: And remember, you can always post your question in The Money Pit’s Community section. And we jump into those every hour on the show.

    Now, I’ve got one here from Kevin in New York who writes: “My home was built in 1969 and the upstairs lights sometimes flicker when I first turn them on. It stops after a few seconds but I’m concerned. Should I be?”

    TOM: Well, let’s talk about that, Kevin, because why, first, do lights flicker? The reason they flicker is because the electrical circuit, even though the switch is on, is going off and on and off and on and off and on. Now, if that’s not happening at the switch, where is it happening? Well, it could be happening inside the switch, inside the connection, inside the wiring because there is a short somewhere. So, yes, you should be concerned. It’s potentially dangerous.

    Now, there’s one other factor, though, that you should consider. Because you told us that your house was built in 1969 and I happen to know, because I’ve got – I don’t remember what I had for dinner but I have this encyclopedic knowledge of home improvement. And I can tell you that from 1965 through about 1972, there was a wide amount of aluminum wiring done in this country – huge amount – for branch circuits. That’s lights and outlets and switches, right? The smaller wires? And the aluminum wiring, the reason is it’s not done anymore – because it turned out that it had such a high expansion-and-contraction rate that the connections would loosen, then they would arc and spark and cause fires. So, this is definitely a concern with your house. You need to get a pro to check it out quick.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next up, we’ve got a post here from Kate. Now, Kate writes: “My refrigerator isn’t working well. And I’m wondering if I should call in a repairman to have the refrigerator repaired or just start over with a new refrigerator. It’s only a few years old and I’ve been happy with it up until now but it’s also out of warranty at this point.”

    TOM: Ah, that’s a really tough spot to be in because, let’s face it, having somebody come to your home to make a repair like that is expensive. And the cost of the appliances is going down. I mean if we’re talking about a super high-end refrigerator here, then it’s probably worth it. But if it’s just like, say, a refrigerator that’s, I don’t know, six or seven or eight years old and maybe it would cost well under $1,000 to replace it, I’d be tempted to just replace it.

    Because, usually, if you call a repairman out, they’ve got to come – there’s a charge for that first visit, right – diagnose what’s going on, then they’ve got to order parts and they’ve got to come back another time and put those parts in. So by the time you’re done, it’s unlikely that you’ll have even a basic repair that costs you less than 300 or 400 bucks. So, personally, I feel like you’re better off replacing it.

    Now, we have, actually, a chart that we developed to sort out these possibilities, on Just Google “repair versus replace.” And it takes into consideration the age of the appliance, the amount of the potential repair and the cost to replace it and then kind of gives you a go/no-go gauge, in terms of whether or not you should repair it or replace it. But you’re really trying to compare the age and the risk of future failure with the cost of a new one or the cost of just staying kind of where you are. It’s all of these different factors kind of balanced together to help you out.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You know, Kate, I had a similar problem with my fridge, which was a lot older than yours, about 14 years. And I just decided to go buy a new one and I love it.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. We hope that we’ve granted you some independence from your home improvement projects on this Independence Day weekend. If you’ve got questions, though, remember that we never take the day off. We’re always available, 24/7, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …

    LESLIE: But you don’t have to do it alone.


    (Copyright 2019 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)


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